Saturday Afternoon Artist: The Roots


I have a theory that 75% of all people don’t listen to lyrics. There are so many songs that have great instruments and players but the words are either cliché, don’t make sense or are offensive. As a writer I strongly believe that words are powerful. And that you absorb the words whether you’re listening closely to them or not.

That said, there are some songs whose groove is so good I will forgive even the most offensive lyrics. One of my all time favorite songs is “The Seed” by Philadelphia hip hop band The Roots. As usual, the words of lead rapper/singer/lyricist Black Thought are simmering hot, emotional and intelligent. Poetic as always. But on this song we have guest singer Cody Chestnut. And here’s what he’s singing:

I don’t ask, for much these days
And I don’t bitch, and whine, if I don’t get my way
I only wanna fertilize another behind my lover’s back
I sit and watch it grow standin’ where I’m at
Fertilize another behind my lover’s back
And I’m keepin’ my secrets mine

I push my seed in her bush for life
It’s gonna work because I’m pushin’ it right
If Mary dropped my baby girl tonight
I would name her Rock’N’Roll

Unless I’m way off base, he’s talking about cheating on his lover (lame) and impregnating another girl (double lame) and he’s proud of it. But you know what? This song is so good I just don’t care. All my posturing about the importance of lyrics goes relaxed when I hear this groove. And I can’t help joining the party. It’s just an incredible dance song.

The Roots are a band who use lots of live instrumentation. Their drummer ?uestlove (pronounced Questlove) is one of the most respected in the music industry. They have live horns, dj,guitars, bass and keys and like I said earlier frontman Black Thought is a simmering powerhouse of intelligence and emotion. Another great thing about The Roots is that they have lots of guests. This song “You Got Me” features the genius of singer Erykah Badu.

Their latest record was Rising Down (2008) and like all their records the songs have themes from the personal to the political. And when I listen to the lyrics it strikes me too that some of these songs are not written personally. They are songs where the lead assumes a character in order to make a point. Like this song (here’s a clip from a live show) “I Can’t Help It”. I think Black Thought is making fun of people who just accept their faults and the rotten things they do to others, and claim that they do this because they are weak. Go Black Thought.

Michele Myers spins on KEXP Saturdays from 3-6pm. Every week at 5pm she features one of her favorite artists and plays the legal limit of 3 songs in a row from the same artist. Her full-time job at KEXP is producer of KEXP Documentaries.

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One Comment

  1. James Lanman
    Posted December 18, 2009 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

    I completely agree. There is not enough importance put on lyrics in popular music in general. This is one thing I’ve always appreciated about The Roots – their music speaks the language of pop culture(dance-able, catchy) but the lyrics and thoughts behind it are much more articulate and intellectual than the majority of their musical cohorts… they let you go as deep as you want to, but when all is said and done it’s just, great music. They are one of the most under appreciated bands of the modern age.

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